Teaching the Anatomy of Death: A Dying Art? [Book Review]

Medicine Studies 2 (1):1-19 (2010)
Along with anatomical dissection, attendance at hospital autopsies has historically been seen as an essential part of medical education. While the use of the dead body for teaching purposes is losing favour in Australian medical schools, this shift is preceded by a significant decline in the rate of autopsies nationwide (and internationally). The decline of the autopsy has particular implications for pathology training where the capacity to perform an autopsy is a requirement. Rather than join the debates in medical literature about the merits of these shifts, this article goes behind the scenes of a hospital mortuary to study autopsy training and practice from the perspective of those who undertake it. The article first introduces the discipline of pathology—‘the science of medicine’—which is built upon centuries of post-mortem study and establishes the fact of the disappearing autopsy. The article then draws upon data from anthropological fieldwork in a Department of Anatomical Pathology to discuss some of the ways trainees manage the work of cutting up the dead. Concepts such as detachment, immersion and disciplinary practice are covered in during this unveiling of everyday practice in a hospital mortuary.
Keywords Corpse  Autopsy  Anatomical pathology  Dissection  Medical detachment
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DOI 10.1007/s12376-010-0042-4
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